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Tarot Reflections

 August 1 , 2004

Shadow Aspects of The High Priestess
Sandra Thomson, CTGM

Sandra Thomson's specialty within tarot is that of an author and teacher. She is the co-author of three books (The Lovers' Tarot, Spiritual Tarot, and The Heart of The Tarot), the author of Cloud Nine: A Dreamer's Dictionary, and the author of a dictionary of tarot, Pictures from the Heart, published by St. Martin's Press.

She teaches tarot classes at the Philosophical Research Society (PRS) in Los Angeles, where she resides. Although she learned to read with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, she is very fond of the Ancestral Path and the Shining Tribe decks, and uses them for comparative or special readings. She reads online for the ATA reading networks, and privately.


Tarot Town News: Morning Edition

The High Priestess represents both the mediating process and the culmination of integration as she typically sits between two pillars denoting the polarities or dualities of life. By occupying the central position between the two columns of opposites, and by listening to her inner intuition, she becomes the middle way and holds the tension of opposites. Learning to wrestle with that tension is one of the basics of shadow work. That opposite aspect that we are ignoring (and there are usually many) is a major component of our shadow aspect. Integration only happens when the shadow aspects of our personality are recognized and accepted as an equally important part of our developmental experiences.

Gill Tarot

In the daylight, we see clearly that The High Priestess calls upon us to turn inward and to recognize that ours is, indeed, an inner journey. She is a mysterious woman, hinting at the revelation and understanding of life's hidden secrets through the feminine, who is their guardian.

Tarot Tattler Tales: Midnight Edition
Daimon Knight, Reporter

Black Tarot

Last night The Fool began his nighttime journey, stumbling along in the dark until he came to Scarlet Street, the home of The High Priestess. He recognized her house by its red porch light, which, actually, is on day and night. In fact, every light on the street is red. The High Priestess owns the entire block, where to paraphrase the late madam Polly Adler, the houses are not homes.

After no success in getting an answer at the front door, The Fool crept around to the back of the house. There he found the lunar lady casting her veils aside, indulging in a little moon bathing, and brooding over why the sun has to come out at all. Clearly a lady of the night, The High Priestess likes to do her work under the stars. She is the Queen Initiate and her task is to prepare The Fool for the remainder of his underworld journey. She helped him to quickly strip off his clothes, and there under the moon . . . well, we can only hope he thought to pack enough money in his knapsack.

Through her dark vision, she already knows that The Fool's next stop is to take respite in the Passion Place garden of her nearby neighbor, The Empress, and her foremost desire is to teach him how to seduce the lady of the house.

Because she is related to the prophet-receiving ladies of Apollos's Oracle at Delphi, it makes you wonder how friendly she was with the gorgeous Apollo. That, however, is the story of The High Priestess's journey; and she never kisses and tells, except when she feels like it.

When The High Priestess works her dark magic, we, and The Fool, are caught in her net of intrigue and fatally robbed of our self-confidence, and our ability to trust our intuition. Clearly The High Priestess has lots of underworld goodies to offer, and it is part of her task to help us acknowledge the clutter in the basement of our psyches.

Mythological Villainy

In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, The High Priestess sits on a stone bench in front of a curtain bearing the images of palm trees and pomegranates. Several Greek myths connect the pomegranate with Dionysus (Bacchus), god of wine and drunken revelry. Although Dionysus was male, his characteristics also apply to the noir side of The High Priestess.

He was seldom at home, always on the move. A real party animal, except that wherever he went, whatever parties he attended, he left conflict and madness in his wake, so he wasn't invited to stay around for very long. As is typical of a heavy drinker, he had difficulty committing to relationships and obligations; he was incredibly moody. He may well have been a bi-polar personality in that he could, and did, shift moods at the slightest instigation.

The good news for Dionysus was that he was perpetually surrounded by women enraptured of him. They loved to show how much they worshipped him by drinking until they were irrational. Their celebration was called the "Orgia," from which the word "orgy" is derived.

During the three winter months when Dionysus reined at Delphi, dark and riotous good times prevailed. Unfortunately, in their rapture the women called the Maenads—who were also subject to changing moods—tore Dionysus to bits, and at least part of him is rumored to have been buried at Delphi. If only Dionysus could have been more discriminating. . . .

The High Priestess's crown connects her with the Egyptian goddess Isis, who was sometimes represented by a "moon boat" and had magical powers learned, or transmitted, from no less than Thoth. This further connects her with, and suggests, that she is one personification of The Moon card, Major Arcana XVIII.

Isis was a guide and protector of the dead, serving as a gateway to the underworld. A magician-trickster, and shapeshifter, she was one of the most complex of the Egyptian goddesses. Her cult became Christianized into that of the Virgin Mary and likely inspired the Black Madonnas, so popular in France and other European churches.

It is Isis who gives birth to Horus, the son of Osiris. Ultimately Horus will kill his uncle Set for murdering his father. Never underestimate the lengths to which a dark widow will go to wreak revenge.

The hieroglyph of Isis's name, and the symbol often seen covering her head, resembled a throne; and she was originally thought to be the personification of the throne from which were born the kings of Egypt. 1 Being the mother goddess of Egypt also joins Isis with Major Arcana III, The Empress. One of Isis's symbols was the mu'at, or "foundation of the throne," which also represented Maat, "the motherhood principle called Right, Justice (Major Arcana XI), Truth, or the all-seeing Eye." 2

Right away we see that Isis influences the quartenary of The High Priestess, the Empress, Justice, and The Moon. When The Fool realizes that he will have to encounter four strong women, who are equally powerful, and probably not a little jealous of each other, we can only wonder how long it will take him to finish his drink and wish he could turn in his round-trip ticket on The Nightmare Express.

The Dark Year

If The High Priestess is your year card, this will be the year where your shadow aspects will encourage you to spend a lot of time taking things quite literally rather than looking at their symbolic aspects. Cycles and patterns in your life will have little meaning, and you are not at all interested in identifying the influence of repeating patterns or cycles alive in your reactions. Just react, and don't think about it.

Superficiality is your middle name this year. You will want to sit on your, um, laurels, and avoid any attempts at insight, and you will regard anything New Age or esoteric as dumb beyond words. If, for some inexplicable reason, you should receive a crystal ball for your birthday, you will likely drop it off at the nearest donation box (in the dark, naturally, so no one can see you) or heave it into the closest garbage bin, whichever takes less effort. All situations in which you find yourself will never be seen as offering the opportunity for personal insight.

The Darkest of the Dark

The High Priestess's two pillars, one dark, one light, represent the initiation process, that of learning to mediate between the upper and lower regions of our psyches. This only happens when we join The Fool on The Nightmare Express and learn to recognize and accept the shadow aspects of our personalities. Until then, we remain "Strangers on a Train."

The High Priestess represents the "virgin" goddess, which is both an attitude and a physical state. When our dark High Priestess comes up for air, we have no interest in regarding ourselves as spiritual beings or in attempting to bring Spirit into our lives. We not wish to consider that any relationship can bring about any aspect of personal healing—in fact, we do not even perceive ourselves as needing "healed."

Our strongest desire is to remain "an innocent" throughout life—the puer and the puella—the perpetual man-child or woman-child who refuses to grow emotionally. This is, in part, related to her association with Dionysus, who wished to remain always an eternal adolescent.

We live in a culture which, at present, is heavily populated with people who think they know more than they actually do, believe they are wiser than they actually are, don't care a whit for the symbolic life, and emotionally are still teen-agers (if not younger). Is that not the communal shadow of the High Priestess?

Personal Shadow Work

When you work with shadow aspects of The High Priestess, consider:

  • the ways in which you allow yourself to be overcome and immersed in self-doubt, listening to old (or current) messages about your inabilities instead of developing your emotional center and trusting yourself.
  • the ways in which you "play dumb," and latch onto the knowledge others present without thinking it through yourself, or considering how it applies in your life.
  • The ways in which you keep your relationships shallow, or avoid intimate social or sexual entanglements or involvement.
  • whether you simply live your life from day-to-day or whether you believe that the people and experiences you encounter can prompt inner growth.
  • how you feel about your intellectual abilities vs. your intuitional abilities. Which do you trust more and on which do you rely more?
  • how often you initiate action rather than taking a "wait and see" approach, and how well that serves you (or doesn't).


1. Leach, M., ed. and J. Friend, assoc. ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend . San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1972.

2. Walker, B. G. The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets . San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983, 454.

High Priestess cards from the Rider Waite Tarot and Gill Tarot © U.S. Games, Black Tarot © Fournier


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